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A Country without Memory

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Maryhill and Celilo
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2011 John Lesage


        Concord


I again end up at the Old North Bridge, where Minutemen fired Emerson's “shot heard 'round the world.” I approach from the east, getting the same view the King's men had of the Minutemen across the river. Major John Buttrick commanded the Minutemen in the forefront of the impending battle. He had instructions not to fire unless fired upon.   
        Then they saw smoke rising from Concord. The British soldiers were burning militia supplies, rather than the town itself, but Buttrick didn’t know that. Someone said to him, “Will you have them burn the town?” The colonials then deployed to impede further progress by the British regulars. Though some of the British had crossed the bridge, they crossed back over on finding themselves outnumbered. The British opened fire in covering this retreat, at once transforming the colonials into something else. The American orders were then, “For God’s sake, fire!” This was the place.
        Adjacent to the North Bridge is the Old Manse, successively the home of both Hawthorne and Emerson. I toured the place ten years previously. Though the tour guide had been born and raised in Concord, she made the astonishing assertion that “We were wrong to resist the authority of the King.”
        What was she thinking? My immediate reaction was to say, “Damn fine tradition!” Then again, I also noticed those ten years ago that British tourists had left flowers near the bridge for their fallen compatriots. The pathos of this lies not just in showing another side to the story, nor in realizing that separation wasn’t inevitable had cooler heads prevailed, but also in knowing that Britons in 2002 ranked British-born, revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine as Number 34 in their list of the 100 greatest Britons. In a sense, we became American because we were quite British. As Jefferson wrote, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”